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Yemen clashes intensify ahead of humanitarian cease-fire

Fighting raged across Yemen in the hours before a five-day humanitarian cease-fire was set to begin between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels, who have some backing from Iran. Meanwhile, conditions for civilians in Sanaa and Aden grew ever more dire. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports on outside attempts to put an end to the fighting.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Fighting raged across Yemen today on land and in the air, in the countdown to a cease-fire.

    In recent weeks, more than 1,400 people have been killed, and 150,000 forced to flee, in what's become a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner begins our coverage.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Hours before the truce was to begin, Saudi armored vehicles moved toward the border, after clashing with Yemen's Shiite Houthi rebels. There was no indication that any ground assault was imminent.

    Meanwhile, a Houthi television channel showed the apparent wreckage of a Moroccan F-16 fighter jet, part of the Saudi-led aerial coalition. The Houthis said they shot it down, and showed what was purported to be the pilot's I.D. card. Still, the bombing continued, with reports of a major coalition airstrike on a weapons depot in Yemen's capital, Sanaa.

    Marie-Elisabeth Ingres of Doctors Without Borders is in Sanaa, and says conditions are growing ever more dire.

  • MARIE-ELISABETH INGRES, Doctors Without Borders:

    The health system in general, it is collapsing. Because we didn't receive any drugs for the chronic disease, for example, and because of the fuel, we have hospitals, some private clinics, they are not able now to run like before.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The same is true in the port city of Aden, where heavy street fighting raged today between Houthis and loyalists of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now in exile in Saudi Arabia.

  • MOHAMMED AMIN (through interpreter):

    We are living under siege, surrounded by these Houthis, no water, no electricity. The sewage is overflowing. Our children's bellies are swollen and we have no medicine. We have nothing.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All this came as the clock ran down toward a five-day humanitarian cease-fire between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, who have some backing from Iran.

    On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted the Saudis in a speech.

  • PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI, Iran (through interpreter):

    Saudi Arabia is a government that doesn't understand and is not aware of the political situation of the region and the world and is a total beginner. It is trying hard to prove itself after many years.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The new Saudi king, Salman, has shown a more aggressive regional stance during his four months on the throne. And the efforts of the Sunni powers in the region, led by the Saudis, to counter Shiite Iran will be a top issue this week at a Gulf nation summit hosted by President Obama, also on that agenda, the U.S.-led talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the Syrian civil war, and the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State group.

    Last Thursday, King Salman had told Secretary of State Kerry that he would attend. But, over the weekend, Salman and the king of Bahrain said they wouldn't be on hand, sending other officials in their place. That left State Department spokesperson Marie Harf today to deny it's a snub of Mr. Obama, triggered by Saudi concerns over the president's pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran.

  • MARIE HARF, State Department Spokeswoman:

    King Salman made this decision, given what's going on in Yemen. He's sending the crown prince and the deputy crown prince, who are fully empowered. They run intel, they run defense, they run a lot of the areas that we're actually going to be talking about in detail at Camp David. So we believe that the right mix of people will be there.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Right mix or not, the meetings begin Wednesday at the White House before moving to Camp David.

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